Last week was my gram’s birthday. She’s 77, and she’s pretty great. Granted, she can be stubborn as a mule, but that’s part of her charm. We love her just the same. We love her apple pie too. There’s not a thing more in my family’s culinary history that stands out more than my gram’s apple pie. Every year, it’s always the same, as soon as the weather starts getting cooler, and those holidays start creeping up, the pie is mentioned. Discussed. Murmured about at the office cooler kinda stuff.
It retains celebrity status within my family, and I can’t foresee a tasty fruit pie that will come close to hers, it’s just the way things are. But over the past couple years I’ve been feverishly trying to perfect my own version. My goal was only for a mere imitation of gram’s apple pie, mind you, something to tide me over until I could get the real thing. Imitation is flattery, yea?
So half out of stubbornness, and half out of years of making pies, she doesn’t really have a written recipe. The grandma clause. It’s just one of those things that she knows how to do. You get apples, flour, shortening, give her about 30 min. and you have a pie going into the oven. It all seems so simple. Yet, it’s not, and my first attempt at the apple pie proved that. What should have been a flaky rich crust with a crisp crumb and lush gooey apple filling turned out to be an almost flavorless, undercooked, over-liquidy filling…well, disaster.
But you learn from these mistakes, and you change things up the second time, and you go from there. About 3 pies later, I can safely say I’ve got it down. I hope you’ll all give this a try, because it’s mega easy and if you’re scared you better not be. I’ve got faith in you. And so do those apples you have sitting in your fruit bowl. They’re destined for so much more. So take a deep breath, read over everything before you start, and think of the delicious endgame.
Gram’s Apple Pie
Adapted from many, many, many recipes and research with Gram’s in mind.
3 lbs assorted apples (6-8 med sized ones)
(some local favs: mutsu, stayman winesap, gran smith)
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 c ap flour
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter
3 c pastry flour or 2 3/4 c all purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 1/4 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2” cubes
(I replace nearly half of this with vegetable shortening,
gram’s only used shortening, but I like butter too much).
about 1/4 c ice water
It’s completely not necessary to use a food processor to get the crust made, but it makes it a hell of a lot faster. But the thing is, it doesn’t take all that much time by hand to begin with, so, either way. Mix the crust’s dry ingredients together in a bowl. The trick is to keep everything as cold as possible so the butter doesn’t begin to melt until it’s in the oven. This will make your crust tender and supple. Funny word. Add the butter (keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it, shortening in the freezer) using a pastry cutter, your hands, or a magic machine. You’re going to be looking for a consistency that’s non uniform with pieces ranging in size from a hazelnut to a pea. Remove any ice cubes from your water and add a little little bit at a time until the dough begins to hold together when you pinch it. It shouldn’t be wet or sticky, if it gets like that, don’t freak out, add a tbsp or two of flour. It should have a crumby texture.
Turn your newly mixed dough out onto a clean surface, knead it briefly just to incorporate all the bits into a ball. Divide it in half and wrap each in plastic wrap. Shape them into small round discs and refrigerate them for at least an hour. If you’re trying to impress your friends (trust me, you will) you can prepare the dough up to a day or so in advance. Doing things in stages makes things a hell of a lot easier, and a lot less hectic when you’re trying to prepare a whole meal.
When you’re ready to assemble your pie, cut up your apples into little wedges and mix them in a bowl with everything but the butter. Try and use room temperature apples, I’m pretty sure mine were cold once and condensation made for too much liquid. You want them to macerate a little with the sugar and spices while you roll out your dough.
Rolling out the dough is pretty simple. Just be patient, if you rush it it’s gonna be a wanky shape that’s not gonna fit in your pie dish. Roll one at a time and keep the other in the fridge while you do it. Remember the butter thing. I’ve found the easiest way is to take two pieces of parchment and place a dough disc between them. This way, it won’t stick to your counter and you needn’t any extra flour in the mix.
Roll out your dough until it’s about 1 1/2 - 2” larger than your pie dish (if you don’t have a rolling pin an old flat sided wine bottle works nice). Roll outwards from the center and continually rotate so it stays round. Peel off one layer of parchment and use the second piece to invert the crust into the pie dish. Gently press it into the pan from the middle out, to not trap any air between crust and pie dish. Leave the parchment intact and put the whole thing in the fridge. Roll out the top layer the same way and toss it in the fridge. Take out your bottom half while you’re in there, remove the parchment, and pour the apple mixture into the crust. It’s gonna seem like a big ‘ol pile of apples, but they’re gonna cook down real nice when you bake them. Take the two tbsp of butter and put little dots all around the top of your apple mountain. Place the top layer over the apples and make sure there’s a good overlap around the edge. If you need to roll it out a little more just put the second piece of parchment back and go for it. Crimp the edges in whatever fancy way you’d like, I just use my fingers. You want to seal the two layers of dough together the best you can without taking too long.
Cut a couple holes in top, brush with an egg wash of one egg and a little milk, sprinkle with sugar. Place the pie dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a 400º oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375º and continue baking at least another hour until the bottom and top crusts are browned a bit and the insides sound bubbly. If you poke a sharp knife into an air vent the apples shouldn’t give much resistance.
Resist cutting into it until it’s nearly completely cool, otherwise your apples are gonna smoosh out the sides in a liquidy mess. It’ll last unrefrigerated on your counter for a couple days, but you’ll eat it before you need to even worry about that.
Part of our 50lb apple picking adventure in late Oct.